The first year we hosted ÖTILLÖ in 2006, we had 9 teams which came to the start line at Sandhamn. Some were seasoned endurance athletes like Jonas Colting, Pasi Salonen, Petri Forsman and Ville Niemelä, but of this lot, Jonas Colting (Ultraman World Champion) and Pasi Salonen did not finish the race, while Petri Forsman (Adventure Racing World Champion) won the event using an air mattress, which led to our first rule change – a size restriction on inflatable objects.
The unsung heroes of ÖTILLÖ 2006 were some of the other racers, even though seven of the teams did not finish. This is the story about Rickard Andersson, a legend in his own right.
Rickard came to start with Martin Nordstrand (one of Sweden’s best surfski paddlers today), and they raced as Team KafeKajak. Rickard was the owner of a small café in one of the kayak clubs of Stockholm.
After the start, they made it to the first island after the big, scary start swim of 1790 metres. There they decided to quit.
“By chance we just caught him disappearing into the woods on an island to the east, completely off-course and on his way to Finland”
In 2007, we still had the course that started from Utö and finished on Sandhamn, although our plan was to change the course direction every year. Rickard entered and paid for the race with a “TBD” partner. Up until the day before the race, we’d been chasing him to get the name of his partner so we could put them in the correct class. Rickard was very elusive and in the morning, he finally confessed that he had no partner, and asked if we could allow him to start alone. Mats and Michael informed him that he could start solo but if for any reason it was felt that he was slowing the swimmer safety operation in any way, he’d be taken off the course. Rickard agreed and set off together with the other 13 teams.
On Långbäling, the fourth island after Utö, not more than 4.5 km after the start, we lost him. We sent out a team to look for him and we could not find him anywhere. By chance, we took the east side of the island with one of the safety boats and by chance we just caught him disappearing into the woods on an island to the east, completely off-course and on his way to Finland. He was not following any markers nor was he following his map.
Mats took him off the course right then and there. Rickard was furious, he made a big scene and said things he probably regrets. Mats stuck to his decision not to let him continue. This is one of the main reasons why we’ll never let teams split up, where one member continues, and also why we’ll never allow solo racers. It could have gotten very scary and we had quite a fright.
“Rickard Andersson is an ÖTILLÖ legend, who deserves praise for never giving up, even when his peers doubted that he cross the finish line.”
In 2008 Rickard entered the race again, this time with Sven Hunhammar. We spent quite a bit of time deciding whether he’d be allowed to enter at all. We even had a talk with Sven, to tell him under what conditions we’d agree to let them start. By this time, Rickard had made quite a name for himself in the endurance community in Stockholm. He was a huge advocate of ÖTILLÖ and talked about the race all the time, which was fantastic for us but probably not so much so for him as he was teased by some. It even got to the point that he was making bets with people who didn’t think he’d finish the race. (The details we heard sound absurd, we hope they are not true.) So, Rickard and Sven started, they pushed on throughout the day and were finally caught by the cut off at 4:30 pm. Another failed year with a big bite to the pride and also to his wallet, as all bets were lost.
We thought that this might be the end of the story, but our hero Rickard returned in 2010 with Mikael Rosén, the Rain Man of swimming and today one of our superb coaches. After a very long day Rickard Andersson finally finished the race! No one was happier than Michael and Mats as his story over the years really affected the whole race organisation.
Rickard Andersson is an ÖTILLÖ legend, who deserves praise for never giving up, even when his peers doubted that he cross the finish line. So, a big round of applause for Rickard!